Author Archives: Roots to Branches

Alternative Technology Education

For the past 3 years I have taken part in a sort of alternative education ‘experiment’ at 5 middle schools in a school district north of San Francisco. The premise of this experiment is that punishing students for failing subjects, for bad behavior in class and for truancy can only go so far. At some point, the school, teacher or parent has to come up with a solution as expelling middle school aged kids typically leads to drug use, over reliance on video games and lack of an incentive / skills for societal involvement. The solution created involves keeping kids at the school site nearest to their home, yet in an alternative classroom where a multiple subject teacher and teaching assistant work much more closely with each student than in a standard class. The ratio of student to teacher is 10 to 1 as opposed to 30 to 1; the focus is on academics as well as social and emotional learning; and project based learning and field trips are woven into the curriculum to inspire creative application of academic concepts.

During my time as educator of project based social and emotional learning, I have noticed one trend that is pretty much universal among the alt-ed students in these classrooms: their reliance on technology and overuse of smartphones, Youtube and video games. Regardless of socio-economics and race (as each school is situated in a different area that results in demographic shift), the trend I have noticed is near universal with these kids: ask them to do a simple multiplication and they can’t answer without going to their phone calculator; ask a question about geography and they use Google maps; ask them to identify a definition and they ask Siri or Google. Initial attempts at removing technological distraction such as by putting phones away and keeping Chromebooks closed leads to blank stares, disinterest and a flare up of a suite of behavior management challenges.

One might observe that ‘of course’ these students act this way- they are, after all, the segment of our population that are failing or in danger of being expelled, and most likely they have some sort of learning disability or lack of support at home. While the latter is true in many cases, the former is mostly false as students in these alt-ed classes lack an IEP or ‘Individual Education Program’ plan that is created when a student has a learning disability that may prevent them from thriving in school. The one thing these students DO have is a form of ADHD where keeping their attention for more than 15 minutes is near impossible.

In thinking about this I was reminded of an article I read back in 2008 that first cued me into the possible dangers of Internet connectivity: entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid? it is a fascinating read even today and worth checking out. A quote from the piece explains, “[Internet media] supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” This phrase exactly describes what I see happening with the hundreds of 11-14 year olds I have worked with the last 10+ years, and not just with the students in alternative education classrooms. Middle school students in public, private and alternative education contexts exhibit shorter attention spans than anytime in history*. This statement comes from current research, personal anecdotal evidence from my own experience and from numerous principles, teachers and guidance counselors I have worked with; seasoned educators that have been in the educational realm for multiple decades.

A simple way to put it is this: students I work with in the alternative education classes and many from general education would much rather surf on Youtube than actually go surfing. And maybe they have a point? Actual surfing involves getting to a beach at odd hours, trudging through coastal plain and sand, getting wet in cold water (at least in Northern California) and the occasional run in with sea urchin spikes in your foot. Youtube does the work for you, includes the dopamine rush and you can do it from anywhere. The problem with the above is that as research shows, in accessing information online we are actually changing the way our brain processes information, many times with dire results: decreased academic performance, a decrease in the ability to focus on tasks and a general apathy for education and possibly the world in general.

Current solutions exist on both the social and technological fronts: work done by Common Sense Media can help us educate our youth on trends in digital citizenship, tech workers at Google and Facebook (among others) have launched a Center for Humane Technology, and websites such as offer targeted social behavior change platforms to educate ourselves on the dangers of overuse of technology while changing social norms and neural pathways. The goal is to enable awareness and an increase in the ability to give our attention in focused and meaningful ways.

I recently went on a field trip to the California Academy of Sciences with two of the alternative education classes mentioned above. Each student was given a scavenger hunt worksheet that asked them to go to specific areas in the museum and write down responses. One question asked the students to answer, “In the exhibit The Color of Life, what is the term for the bending of light?” Rather than move from his seat near the cafeteria, I watched a student pick up his iPhone, cracks spread throughout the screen, and ask Siri “What do you call light that bends?” I couldn’t help but respect the fact he used the tool available to him.

*”There has been an 800% increase in the ADHD “epidemic” in the last 30 years. 6 million kids have been diagnosed with ADHD (1 in 10 kids)” Glow Kids by Nicolas Kardaras




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The Socio-Technological Divide

“ What we really want is a natural life “

– Charlotte Joko Beck, Author of “Now Zen”

Since the advent of screens in our lives, starting with television and including personal computers, humanity has been on a steady climb of access to information and sharing of knowledge due to increased time with electronic screen devices. Starting in the mid 90’s and finally with the invention of the iPhone in 2007, it became possible to hold an Internet enabled device in the palm of our hands. This steady increase in access to information has allowed us to reach great heights in knowledge, communication and the ability to record and examine many facets of our lives. The view from these technological heights is profound! We can see where we came from, know exactly where we are now, and even forecast into the future.

Yet current evidence leads us to ask the question: have we reached a peak or plateau with this technological climb, where we now are faced with the unintended consequences of our infatuation with screens? Research shows a dramatic increase in anxiety, ADHD and depression rates with kids, and suicide rates are at their highest in 50 years. So called ‘social’ media connects us to many people, yet numerous studies show use of these platforms actually make us feel more socially isolated and depressed due to social comparison. Finally, whereas screens and technology can connect us more than ever before, we have somehow found ourselves encountering less physical interactions on a day by day basis, and as stock portfolios climb the destruction of the natural resources we depend on for survival becomes even more rampant.

What stands between the past uphill climb of our technological prowess and the unknown continuation of the plateau in front of us? How will we remember what it means to be socially connected and in touch with nature as devices become more alluring and we lose touch with the physical world just outside our doors? We need reminders and experiences to show that empathy, connection and shared physical experiences are the only clinically and scientifically proven methods of creating well being among human beings.

We believe technology isn’t itself the problem- rather, technology and the prevalent overuse that tends to happen on platforms such as social media, online forums, shopping and information sites are pointing to a larger disconnect at the societal level. Mainly, humans in the developing world are finding themselves more depressed and socially isolated than ever. This is due to a combination of a background narrative of political upheaval, environmental destruction and nuclear chaos, long work hours, fragmented families, never ending to-do lists and activities to keep up with, and most importantly the decrease in participation at the major social centers of our age: churches, parks, malls and community centers. Rather than ‘re-create’ the physical social fabric that maintains our health and emotional sanity, we have turned instead to digital devices and the convenience of electronic connection to those people and things that in the past brought us joy, meaning and connection.

The digital screen, with its offerings of face time with loved ones, push notifications from a friend, and promise of immediate delivery of an email has instead been co-opted by software developers and tech companies to fight for the one thing we can give them: our attention. For this reason, any activity online that involves an Internet enabled site or service such as social media, email or messaging also comes with it the promise of sharing our data and being inundated by ‘cookies’ that quite literally tempt us into clicking on the next article, buying the featured product or going down a rabbit hole of commentary stretching back the last 10 years.

Our goal is simple: continue to use digital screen technology as a tool for communication, information gathering and access to key goods and services. Avoid using screens for social interaction and creating a sense of Self or connection to the world. Be proactive about calling out abuse, bullying and negativity. Teach youth to become leaders in the ways of finding truth amongst ‘fake news’ and culling content for quality and not quantity. Re-create the social fabric of family and community connection to demonstrate that shared in person activity, eye contact, and physical touch are the ingredients to a resilient and happy life.

Our task is extremely difficult given the research that shows many are already subconsciously addicted to their digital devices. Neural pathways in the brain have been created and conditioned to want more screen time to continue the mirage of connection and meaning. Our journey therefore must take the form of a mythic odyssey- one that can snap our attention away from the on screen story of someone else’s life and allow us to fully realize we must go down our own path to authentic being.

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Nature as a Mirror and Reminder to Be Resilient

Isn’t it interesting how natural patterns seem to represent something far greater than the self? Wind carved stone. Water tunneling through rock over eons. Clouds stretching into the horizon. Nature thrives through an ingenious balance of tensions. Though erosion and entropy enact their little dances, slowly whittling away formations and structures, the environment continually pushes back, hanging on in the face of conflict. There is a vibrant message we can glean from gazing at our surroundings. Each challenge posed in our lives is not a sign to give up, but rather, a unique opportunity to fulfill our human potential for greatness and beauty.

As a recent example of how nature can impart survival lessons, it’s instructive to consider the partnership of SF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland (CHO) Primary Care Clinic and East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD). These two entities bring families to nature to restore health. A shuttle takes patients, their families, and the clinic staff to a variety of East Bay Regional Parks the first Saturday of each month to participate in guided activities, exploring the great outdoors. “We look to nature to help our patients become resilient. We believe nature has the potential to heal because it buffers stress,” writes Nooshin Razani. “When people have trees and vegetation around them, they have lower blood pressure, better emotional control, and improved attention and cognition.”

The partnership’s work is backed by studies showing children who live attuned to nature build more resilience towards strife, such as divorce, trauma and bullying. We live in a world of ever-increasing technology. Distraction after distraction compete for our attention in the form of screens to look at and updates to respond to, leading to stimulus overload and stress. In spite of this, we mustn’t lose sight of our connections to nature. There is so much to gain from detaching from the hustle bustle of modern life. Seeking answers from nature’s deeply communicative silence can offer lessons on how to overcome life’s difficulties, especially when it comes to our health.

As an illustration of this empowering phenomenon it is worth considering the case of Renee Davis. Diagnosed with incurable Lyme Disease, she received pessimistic messages from both establishment medical authorities and well-meaning friends to accept defeat. At first, she sunk into depression. Over time, however, she found untapped strength through a renewed connection to nature. “Night doesn’t last forever. The season of winter is finite,” she writes. “The morning comes, always. Spring is certain. And so it goes with the turning of the seasons; the wheel of life. Our connection to nature situates us in this ecological and even cosmic truth. Though we may feel dark, lifeless, hopeless, these seasons in us will not persist. We may feel limited in our physical bodies, but this is not eternal.”

The Importance of Nature Based Ritual

Recently we returned from a weeklong backpacking retreat within Capitol Reef National Park in central Utah. The experience was physically grueling yet emotionally and spiritually rewarding. Along the 25 mile round trip, I was faced with inner thoughts of doubt, concerns about logistics and group dynamics, and the sheer physical feat of having to lug a backpack the distance of 440 football field lengths. If that wasn’t enough, add in the need to prance around prickly pear, find a trail that was barely visible at times over sand banks and washes, and traverse up a 700′ crack in a sheer bluff. Why then, do I feel so restored after this experience?


The answer lies not so much in the physical characteristics of the hike, but in the ritual of the events that took place. Ritual is defined by wikipedia as the sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence. While in nature, the “sequestered place” refers to everywhere around us- the sky is literally the limit. Within this seemingly endless boundary, repeated acts are performed to ensure we have drinkable water, shelter from sun, food to eat and the all important place to sleep. Although I did not quite realize it at the time, every act of survival while in the backcountry can be defined as ritualistic, as it involves the repetition of known gestures while hiking and setting up camp.

For several years we have been taking youth into nature on field trips and overnight backpacking expeditions, and it feels like I am just beginning to grasp why these trips seem to resonate so well. During the hike, while setting up camp, when filtering water and preparing meals, the students are actively participating in a ritual event without being told they “need” to. When partaking in the basic acts of survival, ritual is a part of life and is honored for the place it takes in the day to day. Not only that, but the boundless natural world is constantly reflecting how ritual takes place in every moment: tadpoles gathered along cool banks as metamorphoses sets in, hawks soaring effortlessly on thermals rising from sandstone ridges, bats swinging out from crevices at dusk to seek food in the twilight.

While surrounded by nature, ritual is stripped from anthropomorphic pedagogy and baptised in the glow of sun that cannot be stifled by AC, in the currents of wind that are felt through the thin fabric of tent walls, and in the feeling of hands on smooth sandstone carved by millions of years of the flow of water. When ritual is understood on a natural level, the real challenge is to bring it back to the world of society and continue with due diligence the work of participating with reverence and intention, even when “survival” becomes the act of getting good grades and a decent paycheck.

Keep up the ritual!


One Nation Under Screens

It’s no secret technology has completely altered the world in just a few years. Look at the way children grow up. Just a generation ago, kids used to play outside for hours. They rode bikes to their friends’ houses and didn’t come home until after dark. They interacted with their buddies in nature, used their imaginations, played contact sports and ran around. To be sure, that reality hasn’t entirely disappeared, but it has certainly evolved.


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A recent Kaiser Foundation study found that children use entertainment technology 7.5 hours per day. In addition, 75% of kids have TV’s in their bedrooms and 50 percent of North American homes have the TV on all day. These statistics don’t show the full picture, however. It’s not just television screens. Children tend to be going online at younger and younger ages. A report  released by educational non-profits, Sesame Workshop and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, revealed that 50% of US children between the ages of 6-9 are online daily.

In recent years, considerable emphasis has been placed upon the idea that novel new forms of technology will solve educational problems. Though amazing advances have come from our increasingly interconnected society, a nation of kids glued to their screens is not the ideal solution. What’s needed is a balance between the advantages of copious amounts of information as a desirable tool, and a harmonious integration between nature and the people surrounding us.

Author and child advocacy expert, Richard Louv has spoken out about this issue, going so far as to create a growing body of research on the need for direct exposure to nature in order to better raise physically and mentally healthy adults. His book, Last Child in the Woods, attempts to curb disturbing childhood trends, such as increased obesity, depression, and attention deficit disorders. Louv is just one of many thought-leaders challenging the status quo when it comes to the new reality of the wired generation. Screenagers, a compelling new documentary by filmmaker Delaney Ruston, explores this issue. In her movie, Ruston examines how powerful digital influences, such as social media, internet addiction, video games, and social media can be pervasive in shaping the impressionable minds of teenagers.

What’s most needed in our discussions of this emerging issue is a dispassionate sense of perspective, however. Every age brings its own unique set of improvements, coupled with concerns and challenges. We are fortunate to live in times of immense technological discovery and wonder. The trick is to find the necessary balance between utilizing our great new tools for unprecedented advances while curtailing their adverse effects. The first and necessary step in this process is to create awareness. By recognizing the new state of things we can begin to make positive steps towards living in greater harmony with our screens, the people around us, and the natural world.

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Moment to Moment Mindfulness Produces Lasting Positive Effects

What is mindfulness and why does it matter? Rooted in Buddhist tradition, the practice is believed to be over 2,500 years old. Mindfulness need not have any religious component, however. “Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness,” writes Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. “It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to. It is a systematic approach to developing new kinds of control and wisdom in our lives.”

Another way of thinking about mindfulness has to do with considering the mind as a muscle. Chances are you’ve spent time training the other various muscles in your body: your biceps, your quads, your pecs, etc. You know how good it feels when these muscles are working at peak performance. If not, you at least understand the purpose of exercising them in order to feel healthy and strong. Now what if you could train your mind the same way? What kinds of benefits might you experience? Increased focus, stress reduction, boosts to working memory, increased empathy and more cognitive flexibility, according to the American Psychological Association.

Let’s go over the reasons why. Mindfulness is the self-regulation of attention defined as a meta-cognitive skill. In simple terms, this means, “cognition about one’s cognition that focuses on the monitoring and control of your thoughts.” Nowadays, we need this skillset because our awareness of the present moment is under attack. Distracting stimuli come at us from all directions: push notifications on our phones, Facebook updates, Twitter Direct Messages, video games, not to mention all the work and school obligations vying for our personal bandwidth. Answer this question truthfully. When was the last time you sat through anything, such as a movie or lecture, and didn’t have a conscious thought about something else you need to do or someone else you need to talk to?

Living in the moment through mindfulness re-centers us. It turns off other competing thoughts. It roots us in the present, allowing us to better focus our attention. According to mental health experts, Dr. Kirk Strosahl and Dr. Patricia Robinson, “Research indicates that brain training involving mindfulness practices can strengthen areas of the brain responsible for attention, emotional control, and problem solving… There is even emerging evidence that mindfulness-based brain training produces permanent structural changes in the brain.”

In addition to increased academic performance, mindfulness can have tremendously positive effects when it comes to our emotional outlook. Dr. Patricia C. Broderick’s work in Learning to BREATHE: A Mindfulness Curriculum for Adolescents to Cultivate Emotion Regulation, Attention, and Performance, explores this phenomenon. She suggests there is a difference between knowing “about emotions and knowing your own emotions as they are experienced.” Learning to observe what’s happening in the present moment can help us get away from simply reacting to what’s happening to us. When we practice mindfulness it allows for the opportunity to develop resilience in the face of uncomfortable feelings that might otherwise provoke a negative response. Studies have shown adolescents who display this kind of emotional control are less prone to acting out through violence and/or abusing drugs.

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The Adolescent Brain, Drugs and Media

We recently finished a drug education series at a local middle school, and (pun intended) the kids are hooked on the information. The lesson covers in broad strokes topics having to do with the development of the adolescent brain, levels of identity, drugs and media, and responsible decision-making. The course is designed to work with 6th-8th graders, yet personal experience and research show 8th grade as the critical time this information needs to be shared, learned and integrated. As the national drug use watch organization Monitoring the Future says, “Often 8th grade substance use is a bellwether, and year-to-year changes that are unique to 8th grade can signify an emerging increase or decrease in substance use at later ages…”

Our experience in the classroom shows higher levels of engagement when talking about brain development and drugs than almost any other subject. Contextualizing information with group activity, helpful visual aids, anecdote sharing and impactful statistics allow for digestion of complex concepts. Students demonstrate insatiable appetites to hear about drugs from someone that isn’t telling them “just say no” or explaining how drugs are “bad” the way a parent talks to a toddler.

The success of a drug education program in the classroom is merely one step in a multi-phase abuse prevention strategy. According to the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Education, parenting practices are extremely important in prevention of drug use and abuse among teens. According to the website, teens between the ages of 16-17 show the highest rates of drug use initiation (see graphic), meaning prevention measures need to take place well before this critical time. Couple the fact teens are actively developing their prefrontal cortex from ages 12 to their mid-20’s, and we can begin to understand why risky impulsive behaviors need to be reigned in before unhealthy addictions can set in.


A question remains how addiction can accurately be addressed in our media and drug-filled society. A recent article that addresses the root cause of drug addiction compares addiction to a form of memory, where we are actually “bonding” to an experience we have with a substance, rather than the substance itself. The article furthers this statement by stating the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, but human connection.

As we continue to address the needs of children in middle school, sharing in real-life terms the perceived rewards and hidden risks of drugs and media is a must. Parent norm creation, a necessary piece in the larger puzzle, is also possible via community meetings and before and after school presentations. After all, if we can learn that human connection is the opposite of addiction, wouldn’t we all want to be a part of the communal conversation?

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School as a Social Primer for Future Success in Life

What if kids learn more during recess than in the classroom?

It’s a disruptive notion but a case may be made that social/emotional learning during this predominantly unstructured time has significant developmental benefits. It’s no accident that preschool is emphasized at such an early age to encourage interpersonal growth. Leaving the “safety” of a home environment in which the primary social interactions typically involve mom, dad, sister and/or brother, is hugely instructive for a child’s eventual acclimation into the larger human community.

“There’s increasing evidence that children gain a lot from going to preschool,” says Parents advisor Kathleen McCartney, PhD, dean of Harvard Graduate School of Education, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “At preschool, they become exposed to numbers, letters, and shapes. And, more important, they learn how to socialize — get along with other children, share, contribute to circle time.”

Schools (whether they be preschool, kindergarten or K-12) function not just as conduits to convey knowledge via essential subjects, such as math, history and language arts, they act as ongoing incubators for societal readiness. The more that children are exposed to a plurality of diverse individuals, from classmates, teachers, and educational staff, the better prepared they will be to navigate the complex social minutia of adult life. It is for precisely this reason that recess can be just as valuable as classroom time. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids with regular recess behave better, are physically healthier and exhibit stronger social and emotional development.

It’s no wonder, therefore, that innovative schools, such as Eagle Mountain Elementary, in Texas, are experimenting with multiple recesses. Eagle Mountain is modeled after the Finnish School system which consistently scores at or near the top in international education rankings. The core idea behind the frequent recess approach is use this special time to focus on character development through empathy-building and sustained social interaction.

Based on the success of the Finnish educational model and its American adherents, it’s worth pursuing more social/emotional learning initiatives, even if they don’t feature a whopping four recesses per day. It’s been well documented that school drop-out rates are directly correlative to crime and dysfunctional behavior later in life. The better kids learn to relate to their peers, the more comfortable they will feel in school, allowing for greater achievement. We owe it to our children to use precious school hours towards facilitating interpersonal skills. After all, educators are preparing our young for much more than an eventual job someday. They are preparing them to thrive.

How ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’ Archetypes Shape Our Children

The term archetype is a concept that Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, coined to describe an idealized or prototypical person, concept, or object. In a nutshell, archetypes can be thought of as the general idea our mind conjures when thinking about any of the above. For instance, if someone asked you to visualize an object, such as a car, the first image that comes to mind could be considered your “archetype” of a car. According to Jung, these archetypes reside in our unconscious minds, not just as pictures, but as ideals for how people behave too.

There are four basic archetypical energies that represent family members. These ideals can help us understand the closest people in our lives as well as our own identity or role in others’ lives. They are the Father, the Mother, the Boychild and Girlchild. It is important to recognize that each archetype has positive and negative aspects. For instance, a loving, positive mother archetype nurtures, teaches, and guides with unconditional love. A negative mother archetype is controlling and abandoning or even aloof.


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It gets really interesting when we extend this concept to understand others surrounding us. Broadly speaking, the archetypal energy of a person can be seen as a guide for what they have in their lives and/or what is lacking. For instance, a teenage boy that is afraid to participate in school sports and has trouble test-taking may be responding to negative archetypal father energy. A positive father archetype is supportive and protective, but a negative archetype seeks to control through harsh criticism. It’s no wonder that a boy exhibits shyness and lack of engagement when his father presents major negative archetype energy.

Generally, neither parent is black or white with their archetypical energy aspects. There is a significant amount of both negative and positive qualities. It should come as no surprise that meaningful mirroring between parent and child of positive energies is key to success later in life. For instance, Jung discusses the idea that the “Good Enough Mother” archetype tends to produce an adult that can better negotiate their relationships. Why? Because at an early age, the child that received that positive archetypal mother energy learned to trust that his/her needs would be met eventually, if not instantly. This allows the child to learn trust. By trusting others, we can form strong, loving bonds of mutual support.

As to be expected, there can be problems when a child is not receiving enough of the positive archetypal energies from a parent. When we try to understand why some young men and women commit violent crimes, vandalize, or show self-hatred, we ought to look to the archetypal energies affecting them. Perhaps, the problem is not only that one or more parents in a troubled child’s life may be mirroring negative traits, they could be mirroring nothing at all. They may be emotionally (or literally) absent. In that case, what are we as a society to do?

One suggestion is to consider community interaction. If a parent is unable or unwilling to provide positive archetypal energy, it is important to offer this through other means: a supportive relative, such as a loving aunt or uncle, a teacher mentor, or even a community center that can provide needed direction and good role modeling and youth mentoring.

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Maybe It’s Time We Brought Back The Vision Quest: Why Rites of Passage Create Wiser Adults

Have you noticed that many of today’s “adults” are adults in name only? In terms of outlook and behavior, these “grownups” more closely resemble adolescents.

“…Not only are many young people blocked from reaching adulthood, but they are bombarded with role models for childish and irresponsible behavior,” writes Stephen Schwartz, P.H.D in Psychology Today. “Lifestyles that would have been considered deviant 50 years ago are now commonplace.”

What can explain this alarming tendency? Perhaps we should look towards a once meaningful practice that has largely disappeared. Rites of passage are meaningful traditions across many cultures, yet we have mostly abandoned them in our modern society. Instead, we barely acknowledge milestones, such as obtaining a driver’s license, or growing old enough to vote.

To be sure, there are truly horrific rites of passage we should all be grateful to avoid, but the symbolic meaning and importance of this ritual has profound implications we ought to consider for our young people. According to anthropologist, Arnold van Gennep,  “Rites of passage exist in order to consolidate social ties, establish roles, and give members of a group a sense of purpose and placement.”

Gannep is not alone in his assertion on the importance of rites of passage. It is backed up by the Jewish culture that emphasizes Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies for 13-year-olds and the Quinceañera for Latin American 15-year-olds. A similar and compelling argument can be made that our own society would benefit from events in which the whole community witnesses a youth’s transition from adolescence to adulthood. It’s not much of a stretch to suggest that the infantilizing tendencies of today’s “grown-ups” may be partly due to the absence of these types of meaningful markers designating when a child can be considered an adult.

“Going out by yourself and a spear and coming back with a lion’s pelt doesn’t just mean you’ve been ushered into the world of men. It also means that you are a capable hunter; a valuable addition to the group who can likely handle what the world will throw at you,” writes Mark Sisson, author of the Primal Blueprint. “Having your first menstruation isn’t just a symbolic shedding of your girlhood; it means you’re physiologically capable of getting pregnant. Rites of passage are also very utilitarian and practical, then.”

Ultimately, no one is suggesting that we isolate our children and/or force them to sharpen their teeth into canine points like the Mentawai tribe. However, we do owe it to our young people to find honorable ways to acknowledge their shift from adolescence to adulthood. We might consider designing our own set of challenging, yet meaningful ordeals to help them develop both resilience and self-reliance. If we are successful in our efforts, our society may be rewarded with wiser, better-adjusted adults instead of just larger adolescents.

In closing and just for fun, the next time your adolescent complains about something, here are three gruesome rites of passage ceremonies you can share to let them know just how good they have it:

1) After being ceremoniously circumcised, young boys and girls of the Okiek tribe in Kenya are secluded from adults for months. During this time they paint themselves to resemble a wild creature and are then haunted by a mythical beast whose terrifying roar can be heard at night. The youths only become adults when the elders show them the roar-producing instrument and teach them how to make its sound for themselves.

2) Girls from the Fula tribe in West Africa must have their faces tattooed for hours with a sharpened piece of wood before they can be considered adults. If a girl cries or grimaces she is believed to be too immature and must wait to finish her tattoos in order to marry.

3) To become an adult hunter in the Matis tribe of Brazil, young boys must endure much. First, a bitter poison is dumped in their eyes to “improve” their vision. Next, they are beaten and whipped. Finally, they must inject themselves with poison from the Giant Leaf Frog using wooden needles.